Money–Godly and Ungodly Ways of Getting It
We are launching a new sermon series this morning, entitled “Finding Financial Freedom.” Please note that I didn’t say, “Finding Financial Security.” Biblically the phrase “financial security” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. By the way, I collect oxymorons, and I have literally hundreds of them in my file. Maybe you’d like to hear a few, or maybe not, but here are some of my favorites anyway:
Country music (please no emails)
Now the reason I call “financial freedom” an oxymoron is, as I said, because there is no security in finances, not now, not ever. But there is such a thing as financial freedom, and it is available to God’s people no matter how much money they have or don’t have–if they are willing to listen to His perspective on the subject.
God has a great deal to say about money in the Bible, about how we get it, spend it, save it, and give it. And that’s about all you can do with money. In fact, He says more about money than He does about Heaven, Hell, the Holy Spirit, marriage, or any number of other important topics. Phil Yancey claims there are over 450 separate biblical passages dealing with the subject of money, about 2,350 verses altogether. I haven’t counted them, but I suspect he’s right. I have a book in my library by Larry Burkett entitled, “What the Bible Says About Money,” and it is 280 pages long and contains nothing but Scripture.
I think I have stated before my opinion that churches never have financial difficulties. Churches only have spiritual difficulties that manifest themselves in financial ways. The financial secretary at this church said to me well over twenty years ago, “I know more about the spiritual life of the people in this church than you do, and I can tell when someone is out of fellowship with God long before you can.” I said, “Do you have the gift of discernment?” “No,” he responded, “I keep the contribution receipts, and whenever someone drops out of ministry or quits the church, their giving almost always drops off or stops months before.”
Well, the spiritual problem is not always that one quits giving; sometimes it’s that he obtains his money in an ungodly way, or perhaps spends it foolishly, or maybe invests it unwisely. I think many Christians are ignorant about God’s financial principles and thus have failed to bring their lifestyle into conformity with God’s will. Some know what God says but are just plain disobedient. But I believe the vast majority will do what God wants if I can show them from Scripture what that is, so that is what I want to do in this series.
Let me say a specific word to our young people. You may think that since you don’t have a career or a spouse and kids or a 401K, this topic is irrelevant to you. Far from it! The fact is there are dozens of adults in this room who would give anything to go back to your age and start their financial lives over again. In fact, I would be willing to bet (except that gambling is one of the things I plan to preach against today) that most of the adults wish they had known and practiced sound financial planning starting in their teen years. You have a whole life ahead of you to avoid mistakes!
Now with that introduction I want us to see that financial freedom begins with acknowledging that . . .
There are three foundational financial principles in the Bible.
1. The principle of ownership: God is the rightful Owner of all we possess. This is basic, friends. If we accept the popular dichotomy between the sacred and the secular, believing that God is only concerned about our spiritual lives, not our business lives, our leisure, our politics, or our finances, we will never discover what financial freedom is all about. He is sovereign over all of life and He is the rightful owner of all we call our own, including our money. The Psalmist says that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills and every animal of the forest belongs to Him (Psalm 50:10, 11). That’s just one of many verses of Scripture that indicate to us that it’s all His!
2. The principle of authority: God has the right to determine how His possessions are used. (Matt. 25:14-30). The logic is airtight. If our money ultimately belongs to God, then only He has the authority to decide how we are to get it, spend it, save it, or give it. True, He has given us delegated authority as His stewards, and He allows us a fair degree of self-determination, as the well-known Parable of the Talents in Matt. 25 reveals. The owner in that story gave a certain amount of money to each servant and let them decide how to invest it, but he had definite expectations about the end results, and He applied rewards and sanctions to each, depending upon their faithfulness. God actually lays down very few rules but a lot of principles which, when applied with wisdom, enable us to discover His will in regard to our finances.
3. The principle of dependence: God wants us to recognize Him as the only Source of our security. (Phil. 4:19). Our culture screams at us in a thousand ways that security is found in bank accounts, in cars, in homes, in clothes, in career, in popularity. But God tells us that the only true security is the security of knowing Him. He actually indicates that we are better off poverty-stricken but recognizing our dependence upon Him than we would be if filthy rich and independent.
I was at an area pastors’ meeting on Wednesday, and we were talking about our core values, the beliefs that are foundational to our lives and ministries. One of my colleagues spoke up and said, “I have a core value, and it’s that God is not able to provide all my needs.” Huh? I wondered if I was talking to a heretic. Then I realized that the problem is that I’m not used to such honesty from pastors. He was confessing that as much as he would like to be totally trusting in God, the fact is much of his life is spent trying to make sure he’s financially secure because of a lack of faith in God. Phil. 4:19 says: “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Now that is either true or it isn’t. If it’s true, then, friends, that is where our security is found!
These three principles compel us to carefully evaluate how we obtain money.
If we are going to acknowledge God’s ownership and authority and are going to be dependent upon Him to meet our needs, then it follows that there are certain ways we must not obtain money.
1. We must not steal it. (Ex. 20:15, Eph. 4:28, Rom. 2:21) Now I don’t have to argue that point in this crowd, do I? Most of us learned the Ten Commandments when we were very young, and “Thou shalt not steal” is the eighth in the list. Few in this room would even think of picking someone’s pocket or robbing a bank or burglarizing a house. But there are some less obvious ways of stealing to which even Christians may be susceptible.
What about using stamps at work for personal mail, or making personal long-distance calls on the company phone, or using the copy machine for personal copies? What about walking away from work with small tools or office supplies? What about the theft of time from one’s employer? What about padding your income tax deductions? What about calling in sick when you aren’t? What about refusing to say something to the clerk when you are undercharged or given too much change, justifying it perhaps as a make-up for the times you’ve been overcharged by others.
A pastor friend of mine tells of a trip he took with a busload of 40 students. When they stopped at a gas station one of the students discovered that the pop machine was malfunctioning and would give him pop and return the money. By the time the pastor discovered what was happening all 40 students had “free” pop. Was it free or was it theft?
But let me really go to meddling. I was reading the latest issue of World Magazine on Friday and I came across this item: “The Justice Department estimates U.S. losses due to piracy of movies, software, games, and music at $19 billion annually.”1 Let me ask you very pointedly this morning: Do you have software or music on your computer that you haven’t paid for? If so, you are guilty of stealing, and I suggest you ought to get rid of the stolen items and perhaps even make restitution. Stealing of any kind is a wrong way to obtain money.
2. We must not extort it. (Luke 3:14, I Cor. 6:10). Some people may never commit felony theft but they don’t mind extorting money, that is using their position or influence to get money out of people who would not otherwise depart with it. Politicians extort money by peddling their influence. Insurance agents extort money when they sell a person more insurance than he needs. Stockbrokers can extort it by selling speculative stocks without divulging the level of risk. Lawyers extort money by filing class action suits that have little merit but are too expensive for a company to defend. Preachers are among the best extortionists around, as should be obvious to anyone who has observed the scandals of recent years in some of the leading TV ministries.
Anytime you take advantage of someone else, exploiting their ignorance to charge too much or pay too little, that’s not shrewd business–it’s extortion. John the Baptist spoke pointedly to some soldiers who came to be baptized and he told them to stop extorting money (Luke 3:14). And in 1 Cor. 6:10 Paul indicates there were extortionists in the church at Corinth, but thankfully they were former extortionists. Extortion is not a proper way to obtain money.
3. We must not gamble for it. You’ll notice that I have no Scripture listed next to gambling. That’s because to my knowledge the Bible doesn’t address the subject directly, but I believe gambling violates Scriptural principles in four areas:
First, it violates the biblical work ethic because it nurtures a “something for nothing” attitude.
Second, it violates biblical stewardship because it takes money that belongs to God and puts it at unnecessary and unreasonable risk.
Third, it violates biblical character because it fosters greed, which is the fundamental motive behind all gambling.
Fourth, and most importantly, it violates biblical justice because the only way someone wins is for someone else to lose. And if you argue that education is being funded with gambling profits in many states, I simply respond that those taxes are coming primarily from the people least able to afford it. Besides, in most cases the legislature simply diverts funds that would have been used for education to other purposes.
There is no question but that gambling has a disastrous effect on many who practice it. Thousands of Gamblers Anonymous groups have sprung up around our country to deal with this rapidly growing addiction. And it is a lot more common in the church than you realize. A young husband and father I know lost enough in sports gambling to buy a house. A woman I know was visiting the gambling boats along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers and spending an average of $5,000 a week!
Unfortunately, many who would never consider spending a week in Las Vegas pulling on one-armed bandits have no hesitancy to buy lottery tickets, join an office pool, bet on a golf game, or play bingo for cash, which is essentially the same thing. And frankly, some of what we call “investing” in speculative stocks and commodities is nothing more than respectable gambling. What’s behind all of it is the desire to get something for nothing.
4. We must not borrow it carelessly. (Prov. 22:7, Rom. 13:8) Financial institutions literally beg people to borrow money. If you’re like me you probably get two or three offers of credit cards a week. One person I know saved up all the invitations he received in the mail to accept a credit card with pre-approved borrowing power over a two-year period. Guess how much money he was offered? $485,000! Another friend actually took the cards and ended up with $115,000 in credit card debt before declaring personal bankruptcy!
Everyone is begging you to borrow money, and those already in debt are besieged to take out a consolidation loan, which may decrease the number of loans but usually increases the amount owed. I recall one of George Fooshee’s favorite sayings from over 25 years ago, “You never get out of debt by borrowing money.”
Frankly, I think there may be more Christians who sin in their stewardship by borrowing carelessly than by not tithing. You will never be free to spend as you should, save as you should, or give as you should while you are up to your armpits in debt. I’m not talking about your home mortgage (unless of course that’s unreasonably high); I’m talking about borrowing for cars, furniture, vacations, clothes, Christmas presents, etc.
The Bible clearly does not forbid all borrowing. I wrote my doctoral dissertation at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School on the subject of “Biblical Principles of Church Indebtedness,” and I feel confident that the Bible doesn’t categorically forbid either individuals or churches to borrow. But it does warn strongly against foolish borrowing, it forbids allowing debts to remain unpaid, and it warns against indebtedness that puts either the borrower or the lender at risk. Romans 13:8 says, for example, “Let no debt remain outstanding (become overdue), except the continuing debt to love one another.”
Some Christians need to take drastic action to avoid the temptation to borrow excessively, or to correct mistakes already made. A recovering alcoholic wouldn’t think of keeping booze in his refrigerator, but some credit junkies walk around with a pocket full of plastic. Cut up those cards in little pieces if you need to. Or switch to a debit card. You may have to forego some things for a while, but eventually you will enjoy them more when you can obtain them debt-free. It’s called “delayed gratification,” and it’s a whole new concept to many Americans.
By the way, anyone in serious debt needs a plan to get out of debt. Another of George Fooshee’s favorite aphorisms is this: “You can’t get out of debt by accident.” Fortunately, we have experts in our church family who can help you establish just such a plan. I was told the other day that more than ten individuals in this church have been trained to do budget counseling, and it’s free for you! All you have to do is ask. Furthermore, you still have a chance to sign up for a Crown class today, and that will help you with every area we are going to be discussing in this series!
5. We must not trade things that are more important for it. (Mark 8:36) There are many who have traded time for money, traded their bodies for money, traded their family time for money, traded their integrity for money, even traded eternal life for money. The rich man who built bigger and bigger barns only to have his number called by God, was told, “This night your soul is required of you.” Not a very good trade, was it?
When Jan and I were in Florida a couple of weeks ago we visited some dear friends who moved there 5 or 6 years ago. They told us what their daughter and her husband, whom we also know well and who live in suburban St. Louis, have recently done in order to strengthen their family. He’s a dentist with his own private practice, and a year ago he decided to work only four days a week and take three off to spend time with his wife and their three children. He decided to trade money for time–20% of their income for 50% more time with the children. Now I know not everyone can do that, but it’s really encouraging to me when I see someone take such an action.
Well, if all of these are wrong ways to get money, what is the right way?
We should get our money the old-fashioned way–we should earn it! (2 Thessalonians 3:6-15)
Remember the Smith Barney ad in which John Houseman spoke those words with his distinguished British accent? His advice was so old fashioned that it’s biblical. Turn with me to 2 Thesalonians 3. I want us to read verses 6-15:
In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we could not be a burden to any of you. We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to make ourselves a model for you to follow. For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’ We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies. Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat. And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.
Obviously Paul believed that everyone who is able to work should work. In fact, work is one of the four institutions that God established on earth: the family, government, and the church are the other three. Where these four are honored and respected, people are healthier, happier, and generally more prosperous. But tragically there are many today who don’t work and who feel it is their constitutional right to be supported by the rest of us. I receive a bulletin called Imprimis every month from Hillsdale College in Michigan. In one issue (1993) Barry Asmus, senior economist for the National Center for Policy Analysis, writes,
Let’s play a “what if” game about public spending for a moment. What if our politicians had said back in 1965: “We won’t spend a dime on welfare for the next three decades, but in the early 1990’s, we will take the money we would have spent and buy every Fortune 500 Company and every piece of farmland in America. Then we will deed these companies and farms over to the poor.” That is exactly what politicians could have done with the money–about $3.5 trillion–that they have spent on welfare since 1965.
And that was just up through 1992! Now my point here is not to take a potshot at welfare per se. There is, in my estimation, a very legitimate segment of society for whom welfare is morally obligatory. But there are many who exist on the public dole as if it were the norm rather than an emergency stop-gap measure. Paul told the Thessalonian Christians, “If you don’t work, you don’t eat!” If people are able to work but won’t, they have no right to expect someone else to feed them. God never intended for His children to become presumptuous, ungrateful sponges.2
I might also add that working is not the only legitimate way to obtain money; it is also proper to receive money as an inheritance or as a gift. But the old aphorism, “easy come, easy go,” is often lived out with inherited money. Phil shared a quote with me the other day: “A son seldom makes his money last, if his father made it first.” And even someone who gets rich through gifts of money is a fool to quit work. Work not only provides us with money but it contributes to good mental and emotional health.
Well, so far we have examined some wrong ways to obtain money and the principal right way to obtain money. There’s one more issue I want to address this morning:
“How much money is enough?”
Even if we get all our money in right ways, is it possible to overdo it? The Bible indicates there is a grave danger for those whose goal in life is to get rich. You see, Paul treats those who are rich very differently from those who want to get rich. In 1 Timothy 6:9 he writes,
People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
On the other hand, there are those who do not make money their goal who nevertheless become rich because God blesses them with unusual success or perhaps they inherit a large amount of money. To them Paul speaks in a very different tone of voice. He says in verse 17-19,
Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.
When we ask the question, “How much is enough?” we are really dealing with the issue of greed versus contentment, and God has a lot to say about both. I see four ways in which the greedy person is contrasted with the contented person.
Greed is irrational; contentment is reasonable. (1 Tim. 6:6,7) I hope your finger is still in 1 Tim. 6. In verses 3-6 Paul talks about false teachers and gives as one of their common characteristics that they think of godliness as a means to financial gain. Talk about a description of health-wealth theology–there it is and Paul condemns it! But then Paul says, starting in verse 6, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it.” You can send it on ahead in the form of treasures in heaven, but you can’t take any of your worldly wealth with you, so what sense does it make to focus your entire life’s energy on making money?
In fact, you can’t even control what’s done with what you leave behind. Solomon lamented in Ecclesiastes 2:18,19,
“I hated all the things I had toiled for under the sun, because I must leave them to the one who comes after me. And who knows whether he will be a wise man or a fool? Yet he will have control over all the work into which I have poured my effort and skill under the sun. This too is meaningless.”
Get the point? You work like a fool all your life to amass a small fortune, and your irresponsible heir may blow it all in six months.
Now since you didn’t bring anything into the world and you can’t take anything out, and since you can’t even be sure what’s going to be done with it when you’re gone, it’s really the height of irrationality to be consumed with building up a fortune. Contentment is the reasonable route.
Greed sees everything as a need; contentment distinguishes between needs and wants. (I Tim. 6:8) The greedy person has a mindset that translates everything desired into a need, including the fanciest of cars, the latest in designer clothes, the newest electronic gadgetry, the finest of homes, etc. He is consumed by the accumulation of possessions and pleasures. Paul, on the other hand, had a very small list of needs. In 1 Tim. 6:8 he says, “But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” The smaller our list of “necessities,” the greater the likelihood we will feel content.
Greed is inherited; contentment is learned. (Phil. 4:11-13, Heb. 13:5,6) People are born greedy. A little baby has one thing in mind most of the time and that is the satisfaction of his personal desires to be full, dry, held, and rested. And it doesn’t change much as he grows up. There are a lot of adults who are consumed by the love of money. I even heard of one guy who said, “What good is happiness–you can’t buy money with it?” Well, friends, the love of money is never satisfied by money. Think about that a moment. The desire for food is satisfied by food, at least for a while. The desire for sex is satisfied by appropriate sexual expression. The desire for rest is satisfied by sleeping. But the love of money is never satisfied by money. You have never met a greedy person who could say, “I have enough.” A well-known tycoon was once asked, “How much is enough?” His answer, “Just a little more.”
But while greed is inherited from our human parents, contentment must be learned. Paul said in Phil. 4:11,
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.”
The secret to learning contentment is to learn who God is. In Heb. 13:5-6 the Apostle urges us, “Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?'” The only way to keep our lives free from the love of money, or to become content, is to come to grips with the fact that we have a loving Heavenly Father who will take care of us even if our finances fail us. Finally,…
Greed is external in its orientation; contentment is internal. (Phil. 4:11,12, II Cor. 6:10) The greedy person has his total focus upon external, physical things, while the contented person realizes that internal, spiritual things are far more important. In the Philippians passage we read a few moments ago Paul indicated that physical things had nothing to do with his contentment. And in 2 Cor. 6:10 he speaks of himself as “having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”
I came across a poem that expresses the same truth:
Money will buy…
A bed but not sleep;
Books but not brains;
Food but not an appetite;
Fashion but not beauty;
A house but not a home;
Medicine but not health;
Luxuries but not culture;
Fun but not happiness;
Religion but not salvation.3
Conclusion: When Jesus spoke to the crowd and to His disciples in Mark 8:36, He asked, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” There is possibly someone here this morning who is in the process of mortgaging his soul for the love of money. That, friend, would be a tragic miscalculation.
Jesus, who was rich beyond measure as the King of Heaven, gave it all up to come to this earth and to lay His life down for you. He died for you, and if you accept Jesus as your personal Savior you will enjoy life, not only for the years you have left here on earth, but for all of eternity.
Earn your money honestly, but don’t ever think that is a substitute for a life that is rich toward God!
1. “Campus criminals,” World, September 11, 2004, 30.
2. In one of the concentration camps of WWII the prisoners were barely surviving but surviving because each day they had meaningful work to do–even if it was producing goods for the Nazis. But a new commandant with orders to reduce the number of prisoners with as little cost as possible tried an ingenious new approach. He ordered the men and women to move a huge pile of dirt from one end of the camp to the other. When they had finished they were ordered to move it back. This went on day after day until the sheer uselessness of it drove a growing number of prisoners to commit suicide. The commandant wrote that he was convinced that if the Nazis had held out longer all the people in his camp would have died without him having to directly execute one of them. We were made to work; we need to work; work is God’s blessing and His primary means for us to obtain money.
3. King Midas was a very kind man who ruled his kingdom fairly, but he was not one to think very deeply about what he said. One day, while walking in his garden, he saw an elderly satyr asleep in the flowers. Taking pity on the old fellow, King Midas let him go without punishment. When the god Dionysus heard about it, he rewarded King Midas by granting him one wish. The king thought for only a second and then said, “I wish for everything I touch to turn to gold.” And so it was.
The beautiful flowers in his garden turned toward the sun for light, but when Midas approached and touched them, they stood rigid and gold. The king grew hungry and thin, for each time he tried to eat, he found that his meal had turned to gold. His lovely daughter, at his loving touch, turned hard and fast to gold. His water, his bed, his clothes, his friends, and eventually the whole palace was gold.
King Midas saw that soon his whole kingdom would turn to gold unless he did something right away. He asked Dionysus to turn everything back to the way it had been and take back his golden touch. Because the king was ashamed and very sad, Dionysus took pity on him and granted his request. Instantly, King Midas was poorer that he had been, but richer, he felt, in the things that really count.